Van Talmage
5 min readJan 11, 2023

I want to discuss information flow: language versus visual.

We know what’s going on these day: kids are not reading and not learning to read. Kids are texting (shorthand as best as possible) and Tik Toking (a medium that prizes short videos). Thing are changing n our communication habits.

The texting revolution with its few-finger typing has shrunk and altered language with new acronyms that are now words (OMG, LMAO, IOW). It has introduced emojis to express something, usually emotions or reactions. (See also old Oriental languages with symbols).

This is an ongoing transition in language and will go through a spurt of change and then settle into the most comfortable of the new expressions. But language is changing.

And reading is taking serious hit. There will always be books and book reading, but this will slowly die to a minimum (not zero) because it is too expensive. Reading has and will continue move to the internet and the dynamics are different. Screen and lighting is the first stand out, but use of video in a story changes the communication effect hugely.

Using my own reading as an example: I read long articles and not books. I read a book when I want to relax and settle my mind. I read the internet when I want to learn anything about the world. I do not think I am alone in this. And I watch the occasional short video.

So let’s get deeper here:

Visual representation is much more energy intensive than language representation.

My simple example is the word “Cat”. Sound it out and think of it as a sound — “ka at”. That simple sound causes a representation in your brain of some picture of a cat. (Later we might discuss where this visualization in the brain came from, but for now we will state that most of you readers will have an image of a cat).

Language is built on the use of sound. I send you three letters — C A T — and you develop a picture in your brain. I send this via sound, or via text (3 characters, 24 bits of information — the text is turned back into to sound as you read it)

Now consider that you are separated and I want to send a representation of a cat and my only options:

a. Walk you over to see the cat.

b. Take a picture of the cat and walk it or delivery it to you

c. Take a picture and send it electronically (42Megabytes of data).

It is obvious that the transmission of information is more efficient with the use of sound.

It is my theory that the enhanced use of sound (production and reception) was the precursor to language and that language gave us civilization (See Sounds To Civilization —

Image, if you will, a group of early hominoids tending fire, cooking meat, sitting in our near shelter. Sound is a very cheap communicator at close range. The easiest to do and the best for using sound to expand meaning. Grunts, sounds, back and forth with meaning attached.

But this kind of sound is only so good. What about long distance? What about very high volume of information. Not just Cat but BIG SCARY CAT WITH FRIENDS COMING OUR WAY.

So Sound was very good in the beginning and begat language (nouns as labels, verbs as actions or processes, compound noun-verb patterns). But sound was limited, particularly by distance.

And by Time. Sounds dissipate and go away. There is no natural preservation of sound, except the brains and memory. Sound is preserved as learned patterns stored in the neural networks. (nowadays, of course, we have recording devices).

Language got things started. Probably the development took a million or more years, but it seems to have some critical mass about 70K to 125K years ago. Then, up to around 10K years ago, we developed oral languages and stories and myths. Then, written language and symbols came about. Here was a way to store thoughts and sounds and sentences. Here was a way to preserve memories beyond human brains. Some oral traditions and stories found their way into written word.

Before leaving the energy intensive argument about visual vs sound, just think of the process of seeing and the amount of energy to transmit light (electromagnetic energy, how we see) versus the energy to transmit sound at a close range (low energy sound waves, how we hear). And think of the eye/brain cells to transmit a picture versus the ear/brain cells to send a signal that creates a picture. Sound wins hands down and that is why the early use of sound by hominoids was so important.

Now back to writing, storage of the written word, then transmission of the written word. All written word is based on the use of a sound alphabet with a discrete number of sounds arranged in an infinite (?- very large) number of combinations. (Do you see all the drug commercials, lately, with new combinations of sounds for names?). Transmission of sound that is translated to language is still hugely more efficient than transmission of visual information.

Language, as an early communication technique, had no alternatives. It made no since to paint a picture (how?) and carry it someplace, when you could just send a sound.

And here is another save-for future consideration: with language you can express imagination, non-physical ideas, and a myriad on non-physical connections. This is a very powerful advantage of language and hence, of the written word.


Cameras came along as great tool to capture pictures. Then videos came along to capture successive pictures. Then transmission of information got crazy (Gigabytes per second??) and now we live in an age where the transmission of pictures takes more energy, but so what? It is so little extra overall energy that it is in insignificant in the scheme of things.

You can now transmit huge amounts of data in an instance and, hence, the use of moving pictures in having a correspondingly huge effect on communication. A picture is worth a 1000 words. Actually, it worth 10000 words or more. And if you can transmit effectively both a picture and word in the same perceived time period, pictures are going to win factual representation matters most.

So we have two major effects in the development of communication (transmission of ideas, facts, culture, and emotions):

1. The altering of language to make it more efficient.

2. The use of video/pictures to carry meaning.

Now think of this the long term (many generations — if we don’t succumb to climate change). Think of using only your brain more and more on visual communication and less on sound (reading).

Interestingly, podcasts are increasingly the means of communication. But while podcasts skip the whole reading situation, they are much slower in the transmission of information. They are good when you are doing something else: driving or washing the dishes.

It is not likely the skill of reading will go away in the education part of the population. Written word is still very powerful. But it is very likely that reading and comprehension skills will go way down if a person grows up without the written word, even if it is abbreviated from its glory days.

If you carry this far enough and add in informational bubbles, we are leading to a separation in the Homo sapiens to a reader call and non-reader class. Of course, this will take at least two generations. (Just kidding, many generations, but technology is still moving fast and we do not where it will end).